It is largely believed that technology (in particular Information and Communication Technology) will bring about the desired learning outcomes and that students will develop conceptual understanding of themes. In schools, this view has given way to an understanding of ICT as being an enchanted means for students to acquire knowledge. Though ICT has been critical in opening access and opportunities to information and knowledge, its use in schools has been limited to the bare minimum – PowerPoint. I do not consider that using PowerPoint necessarily makes of our class an ICT-driven one. Technically, there is no difference between a PowerPoint presentation (of a lesson) and the dictation of notes, as is most often the case in our schools. There is a need to demarcate between access to information (whether PowerPoint or digital materials) and knowledge construction and skills development.
Many researches have shown that ICT can be integrated in a system on the express condition that a technology paradigm that incorporates inquiry, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity and values is adopted. Technology should be the vehicle for helping teachers to create the adequate learning environment to enable learners to construct knowledge as well as develop the appropriate skills, as illustrated by the figure (based on our own team research):
What is important in the knowledge construction process is the interaction among a number of variables, such as contextual knowledge, pedagogy and technology. Let me explain how each one should be locked into a single entity for learners to construct purposeful knowledge structures in their minds so that knowledge makes sense. Ideas (and not knowledge) that are disunited are meaningless and create confusion in the minds of learners and this further hinders acquisition of knowledge. This is what is presently happening in our society, where people are always prompt to ‘act’ without first ‘thinking’. And when the ‘thinking’ occurs, it is much too late. Let me clearly explain the meaning of the three elements to clarify matters.
Understanding about a new situation happens when we have some previous understanding (prior knowledge) of the situation, which could either be similar or different but related. When there is understanding, this implies that knowledge has been constructed and it makes sense. Now, this newly constructed knowledge should be in harmony with other concepts acquired in other subject areas. At times, it is sad to note that concepts learnt in one subject area are not in congruence with concepts learnt in another subject area and this adds to more confusion. For example, a concept learnt in mathematics (gradient) is rarely related to a similar concept learnt in science (rate of change).
This is the most important variable in the whole process; it captures a variety of elements, such as teaching-learning strategies, assessment and values. It is high time that teachers put aside their beloved traditional approach to teaching and adopt learner-centered strategies and engage learners to interact with their peers and with them (teachers), for knowledge construction is most effective in a social milieu. Discussion (general or in groups) under the supervision of the teacher becomes imperative for learners, as they need to learn how to respect the views of others. There is a degradation of values in our society and the school – which forms part of what I call ‘the education triangle’ (State-School-Parent) – is one the most important elements for the development of values in our learners.
Technology, which includes the hardware and software, is the means to help learners acquire knowledge. In this case, the teaching method adopted has to change and the lessons will have to be based on a thematic (context) approach. Technology can serve the purpose of helping learners make sense out of nonsense (all the stuff they have to study). We should not forget that a classroom is composed of learners of different abilities, normally categorized in three groups: low, average and high abilities. This means that a teacher can expect that learning will occur if only he/she engages learners (I am focusing on learning rather than on teaching to lay emphasis on acquisition of knowledge by learners) to construct knowledge by unfolding the lessons with a clear-cut demarcation between the three abilities. That is, the teacher has to adopt at least three different strategies to capture all the abilities during the lessons. It is then that technology will be an indispensable tool to engage learners to construct purposeful knowledge structures, that is, knowledge that makes sense. At the same time, teachers can monitor progress of individual learners and report to parents about progress and also involve them to form part of the whole process. Removing one of the elements creates a vacuum, leaving learners with the opportunity to haphazardly construct ‘their own knowledge’, which might be contradictory to the general values.
To summarise, the adoption of technology in our schools should have a well-planned dimension and elements of research should be considered while integrating it in the teaching-learning routines. Technology can, no doubt, speed up learning, but it can also slow down learning, with unpredictable consequences. An overwhelming majority of young primary school kids can fascinate us with their technology-savvy aptitude, but how many of them can tie their shoelaces (development of skills) properly and display the desired type of respect to teachers at school and to elders at home or on the streets?